Slavery and literacy

No more chains of slavery. Dysfunctional schools work just as well for keeping the masters in control.

by Sasha Alyson

Thank you for reading this. I’m a big fan of reading.

Reading is enjoyable. But it is much more. Reading offers a vision of better ways to structure a society, role models of people who have fought injustice, ideas about how to challenge illegitimate authority, and hope that change is possible. Not everyone who has these gifts want everyone else to have them too.

1820s, Southern USA: It was illegal for a white person to teach an enslaved African-American to read. It was well understood that the slave system would be threatened if books put dangerous ideas into the wrong heads.

Times change. Today there would be outrage at making literacy illegal. Today…

2020s, Africa: The UN pushes to get all children into schools where it admits most do not learn to read. It is well understood that Western dominance would be threatened if books were putting dangerous ideas into the wrong heads.

You can no longer outlaw literacy. Instead, the West pulls a bait-and-switch, promising education, then substituting schools which are so bad that they minimize the space for true education to happen.

Does it help if I say that I know this sounds like a zany conspiracy theory, but that in two or three minutes I think I can at least show it’s worthy of your consideration?

I’m not suggesting an explicit plot to keep most of the globe under-educated. Just an evolutionary process. The rich and powerful are protecting their own interests, keeping their eyes shut as their policies undermine education, critical thinking, literacy, independence, and much else in the lands which they once kept under their colonial thumb.

According to the World Bank and U.N.: Even pre-pandemic, 86% of 10-year-olds in sub-Saharan African could not read and understand a simple text. They’ve declared this a crisis.

But they don’t ask why this happened. (They caused much of it.) They don’t propose that Africans might have ideas about what to do. Instead, six global institutions based in the U.S. and Europe, all run by wealthy white Westerners, have announced their own solution. The top priority, they say, is to ensure that NO children escape from schools where they’ll probably learn nothing.

“At least the children are at school” is the usual response I hear from those in the West. (I’m from the U.S. but have lived in southeast Asia for 20 years.) If their own children were forced to attend dysfunctional schools which numbed young minds and destroyed young spirits, they’d never say this. It only applies to dark-skinned children in other lands.

Bad schooling does not mean you learn only a little, instead of a lot. It is a great loss. It makes children miserable, dulls their spirit, kills their instinctive desire to learn, and discourages others from helping them to do so. Note the U.N.-World Bank statement about 86% illiteracy among African 10-year-olds, mostly in school. And according to UNESCO: “3 in 10 of all young adults who have not been to school — and as many as 1 in 2 in Indonesia and Myanmar — could read.” Statistics like these come from shaky sources, so we can’t make any certain conclusions. But it sure sounds as if school attendance in sub-Saharan Africa is suppressing the literacy that children would achieve otherwise.

They may not learn reading or math, but children DO absorb another lesson from rote teach-for-the-test approach schooling. They learn that those in charge know all the correct answers. They learn that the master is always right. Who needs chains, if you can get your subjects believing that?

Is it really so surprising that those who benefit from the status quo, are happily protecting it? They don’t need to be consciously scheming, “Let’s make them illiterate.” They’re not even thinking about “them”, they’re thinking about where to have dinner tonight (immigrant labor will keep the cost down), how to get a promotion (certainly not by shaking up the status quo!) They’re thinking about next month’s vacation. Perhaps a sunny beach resort, where they can get plush accommodation, be serviced by hard-working staff with poverty-level wages. It will be cheap, and they’ll feel like and be treated like …. well, like plantation owners.

And they’ll believe that they deserve it.

The system works for a lot of people. They’re in no rush to change it.

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I asked for 2-3 minutes. Time’s up. Here’s more, if you believe this is important.

Related stories

Left: The campaign against reading. The aid industry says it promotes reading. But its actions — such as dumping unwanted books from the USA — are motivated by self-interest, and consistently undermine reading in the global South.
Right: Schooling vs. education. The United Nations has convinced much of the developing world that getting more children enrolled in school is the same as expanding education. The consequences have been devastating.

Left: UNICEF preaches diversity. But for 77 years, UNICEF has ALWAYS had a white USA citizen in its top spot. That’s hypocritical. Racist, too? You decide. And it leads UNICEF to push Western interests.
Right: Francophonie. By forcing children in its former African colonies to study in French, France thought it was spreading the glory of the French language. But students ended up learning neither French, nor much of anything else.

Left: What do your schools focus on? We polled people in 15 diverse countries. A decisive majority said their schools primarily teach children to pass tests.
Right: Cooking the numbers. The World Bank, UN, USAID, and other agencies have greatly exaggerated illiteracy in the South – as a foot in the door to push through policies that will make it worse.

Left: Garbage in… Aid agencies – especially UNESCO – run junk numbers through fancy formulas, to create statistics which will back whatever they’re pushing at the time.
Right: Schools in the global South are getting worse. The aid industry doesn’t ask why, and for good reason. It created much of the problem.

Other stories about karma colonialism

Left: It’s all about control. Development aid is a continuation of colonialism by other means. If that sounds far-fetched, this story in The Africa Report presents six strong pieces of evidence.
Right: Chocolate hands. You can buy chocolate hands at shops in Antwerp. So what? Well, one of the colonial era’s great atrocities involves Belgians chopping off the hands of Africans.

Left: Cash transfers. Why not just give aid funds directly to the people you want to help? This approach has been done, results have been studied — and it proves quite effective.
Right: What would make a better future? There are ways that wealthier countries can genuinely help others, if they want to. Give the aid money directly to the poor, for example. Here are ideas.